Marist Faculty and Administration Struggle to Agree on Decision-Making Process Concerning Professors' Salaries

By Alyssa Hurlbut

Marist College faculty voted overwhelmingly against an administrative proposal that changes how Marist teaching salaries are decided. Opposition centered on the level of faculty involvement in the decision-making process, according to those interviewed.

The 120-55 vote, which took place at a plenary session Jan. 31 between President David Yellen and the faculty, rejected the administration’s proposed revisions to the process for determining salary raises each year. 

“The bigger issue is whether faculty maintains the right to have what we would call a real say in it rather than simply being consulted,” said Dr. Nicholas Marshall, associate professor and chair of the history department.

After meeting on Feb. 2 to discuss the revisions and consider the faculty’s vote, the Board of Trustees decided to implement the administration’s proposal as it was presented to faculty. 

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“President Yellen reported [that] the Board carefully considered the proposal and the faculty consensus view and, believing it was a fair offer, supported the proposal,” said Dr. Elizabeth Quinn, chair of faculty and associate professor of psychology. “I think it is important to note that President Yellen advocated for continuing to include faculty in the decision-making process.”  

Currently, salary for full-time, associate, and assistant professors is decided based on a number of determinative factors, the most important of which is how salaries and benefits compare to a group of 30 colleges and universities identified as the ‘comparator group,’ according to Quinn.

Prior to the recently adopted modifications, professors and staff traditionally participated in the process by designating a representative committee to meet with the administration in order to cooperatively determine appropriate salary raises based on total compensation-- the culmination of both salary and benefits. The combined forces of representatives aimed for Marist salary to fall within the 75th percentile of the comparator group, or match Marist faculty compensation with 75% of the school with the highest compensation.  The Board’s enactment of President Yellen’s proposal will now alter that negotiation process.

 

“What [President Yellen] is proposing is that [salary increases] become a decision made by administration rather than something that is part of a negotiating process that includes faculty in a full discussion, which I think caused a lot of faculty to vote against it, because it diminishes the decision-making role of the faculty on campus,” Marshall said.

The administration and Board of Trustees believe the modifications to compensation terms will benefit the faculty financially and preserve their political role, according to a statement made by the Office of College Marketing and Communication Feb. 5. “The Trustees remain committed to compensating our dedicated faculty at a fair and appropriate level. In fact, under this revised process, salaries for many faculty members will increase relative to those at peer colleges. In addition, Marist faculty will have a larger role in annual salary decisions than those at nearly all peer schools.” 

Quinn said that with the modifications, faculty will maintain a level of discussion with administration when deciding salary increases.Marshall believes the change to this negotiation process poses a threat to Marist College’s shared governance policy, a system that allows for a balanced role between faculty and administration in governance of the school. The policy was adopted by the American Association of University Professors in 1920 as a mechanism for “meaningful faculty participation in institutional governance,” according to the AAUP website. 

The shared governance approach has catalyzed widespread controversy in schools across the country, as university and college leadership struggle to reconcile rising tuition prices, increased compensation for university administrators, and a greater reliance on part-time teachers, according to a 2016 article written by Hudson Valley Magazine titled, “Marist College’s (Somewhat) Happy Faculty Family.”     

The article cited Marist’s 2016 Climate Agreement survey, in which close to 80 percent of faculty felt insufficiently involved in campus decision-making and suggested that a number of faculty who were not tenured did not feel comfortable speaking on the record about the issue. 

 After the proposal was ratified at the Feb. 5 Board of Trustees meeting, Dr. Lynn Eckert, associate professor of political science, spoke in line with Marshall’s concerns and suggested that the adopted modifications would limit traditional faculty involvement in determining their salary and compensation decisions. “The unilateral decision by the Board of Trustees to end a long-standing negotiating tradition with the faculty is neither collegial nor collaborative, and the imposition of contract terms violates the principles of shared governance.”

The Board’s enacted modifications incorporate changes to the school’s measurement process when determining annual increases as well. While salary increase decisions at once considered total compensation—which includes both faculty and salary as well as benefits— the administration will now measure salary alone.

Additionally, the school will switch its comparative group to the AAUUP North East IIA schools. Switching the comparative group, Quinn says, will benefit a number of professors who have traditionally been “underpaid” relative to faculty in the current comparative schools. “This year's proposal includes a significant raise pool for a group of professors whose salaries are well below the 75th percentile of a particular comparator group,” Quinn said.

 

“The other increases are in line with what is typically offered.”According to Eckert, these salary increases would fall between 2-3%. “The Board’s willingness to consider a raise in faculty salary between 2-3% is hardly generous given that the current inflation rate is roughly 2.5%. In addition, the meager raise in faculty salary must be evaluated in light of the high salaries and bonuses paid to the top administrators at Marist College,” Eckert said. 

 As of now, salary decisions will continue to be determined based on the 75th percentile within the AAUUP North East IIA schools, though Quinn suggests this target is subject to change following further analysis of the new comparator group and discussion between the administration and faculty. Marshall, among two other faculty members who wish to remain anonymous, believe that the 75th percentile is not representative of where Marist salary should be, and that the marker should be bumped up with the shift in comparative groups.

 

“One of the issues is setting an appropriate target,” Marshall said. “There are whole host of issues, but one of them is a difference in opinion of what we should be aiming for.”       “By no means would we want to get as much as we can if it was going to hurt the college. It was simply, let’s pick a reasonable comparative group, let’s have reasonable targets within that, let’s give raises based on how it is working with other schools within the comparator group--and we should be able to agree on that. I don’t think they were as committed to that vision as we were,” Marshall said.     

The vote in opposition to President Yellen’s proposal is not common for Marist faculty, Marshall said. He believes that this specific issue really resonated with faculty, prompting them to voice their concerns. “The Board of Trustees’ decision on faculty compensation is connected to a larger and deeply divisive trend in our politics where workers’ wages remain flat while executive compensation balloons. A fair proposal, one that demonstrated respect for faculty and for the principles of shared governance, would broaden the financial rewards beyond the top administrators,” Eckert said. “Instead, our Board and our top administrators behaved like their executive counterparts in the corporate world, deciding to concentrate wealth at the expense of the very rank and file who are committed to the success of the institution. I am deeply grateful to the faculty’s negotiating team for demonstrating integrity throughout a biased process.” 

Alyssa HurlbutComment